Posted: April 11, 2012
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Article SummaryWhen CIDRAP News decided to do a story about recent hype in India’s media coverage of swine flu, I pointed out that it wasn’t just recent and it wasn’t just the media. So reporter Lisa Schnirring asked if I wanted to comment on the record. This is the response I sent her. She used most of it in her story, along with a lot of other good material on Indian pandemic H1N1 hype.

India’s Response to Swine Flu – Still Weird

(an April 9, 2012 email to Lisa Schnirring of CIDRAP News)

Lisa Schnirring’s CIDRAP News article is also online.

India’s reaction to pandemic H1N1 has been consistently weird. Long after other countries realized that swine flu was comparatively mild, Indian media have continued to respond as if it were horrific. My file of sources or journalists using the phrase “dreaded swine flu” or “dreaded H1N1” continues to accumulate examples from India – and virtually nowhere else.

Perhaps in response to this overreaction, Indian officials and infectious disease experts have sometimes gone to the other extreme – for example, trying to reassure the public by insisting falsely that H1N1 cannot make healthy people seriously ill.

Other times Indian officials have gone alone with the public’s exaggerated fears. Last week, for example, the Times of India reported “shock and disbelief” when a 75-year-old man “succumbed to the dreaded disease” – as if elderly flu deaths weren’t (sadly) commonplace. Health department officials apparently joined in the overreaction. According to the newspaper, they collected “the clothes and linen used by the deceased to be burnt and destroyed”; they supervised the victim’s cremation; they “applied disinfectant to the floor and furniture in his house”; and they identified at least 20 contacts who were given prophylactic Tamiflu even though they had no symptoms.

And a mid-March story out of India reported that medical and health authorities had started screening passengers traveling by train between India and Pakistan to check for swine flu, after two cases tested positive in a border district. I know of no other country that still imagines it is in the containment phase of pandemic response.

I tell clients never to use the word “hysterical” to describe other people’s risk response. I will resist the temptation to make an exception for India’s response to swine flu.

Copyright © 2012 by Peter M. Sandman

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